10 Things You Didn't Know About Bob Dylan, The 2016 Nobel Prize Winner In Literature
On Thursday morning, fans were surprised and delighted to learn that music legend Bob Dylan has been awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature. Joining the ranks of literary luminaries like John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, Toni Morrison, and Pablo Neruda, Dylan — known primarily for his work as a songwriter and musician — was awarded the prize for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” Sara Danius, the Swedish Academy's permanent secretary, described the new Nobel Laureate as “a great poet in the English-speaking tradition.”
In a career spanning 37 studio albums and more than 50 years, Dylan, now 75, has penned some of the most beloved songs in American music, from “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” to “Like A Rolling Stone,” to “All Along the Watchtower.” His work began in the folk movement of the early 1960s, but would go on to participate in and influence a variety of genres, including rock and country. Danius compared his songs to the works of Homer and Sappho — “poetic texts that were meant to be listened to, that were meant to be performed.” Certainly Dylan’s vivid lyrics explore a wide array of human emotions and experiences, ranging from powerful protest songs that bolstered the civil rights movement to reflective considerations of the complex inner-workings of human relationships. Dylan has built a long, fascinating career that’s still very active: his latest album was released only this year, and he’s still doing live shows. (In fact, he’s scheduled to perform in Las Vegas tonight).
To celebrate the iconic musician’s Nobel Prize win, read on for ten things you didn’t know about Bob Dylan. Some of them may surprise you.
1. He could have been Elston Gunn.
Bob Dylan was born Robert Allen Zimmerman, and before he started going by “Bob Dylan” in the early ‘60s (he legally changed his name to “Robert Dylan” in 1962), he briefly used the name “Elston Gunn” when performing as a young man with musician Bobby Vee. He’s taken on other pseudonyms throughout his career, including Tedham Porterhouse, Blind Boy Grunt, Robert Milkwood Thomas, and Boo Wilbury.
2. He opened for Martin Luther King at the March on Washington.
On August 28, 1963, more than 200,000 people gathered in Washington D.C. to campaign for civil rights in the March on Washington. Only 22 at the time, Dylan performed “When the Ship Comes In” with Joan Baez and “Only A Pawn In Their Game” on the same stage from which King would deliver his iconic “I Have A Dream” speech.
3. He’s performs A LOT.
Since 1988, Dylan has performed at least 80 live shows every single year, in what fans have dubbed the “Never Ending Tour.”
4. He’s never had a Billboard number one single.
The highest he’s gotten is number two on the chart, with “Like A Rolling Stone” in 1965 and “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” in 1966.
5. Dylan wrote “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” for a Western.
In 1973, Dylan appeared in a minor role in a movie Western, titled Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid . The filming and post-production process were such a mess that director Sam Peckinpah was fired before the film’s release, and he attempted to have his name removed from the film. Dylan recorded a few tracks for the movie’s soundtrack, one of which — “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” — would go on to be one of his most beloved songs.
6. He wasn’t impressed by the moon landing.
According to Rolling Stone, Dylan once said, “What’s the purpose of going to the moon? To me, it doesn’t make any sense.”
7. When Elvis Presley died, Dylan didn’t talk for a week.
He said of the music legend’s 1977 death, “I went over my whole life. I went over my whole childhood. I didn't talk to anyone for a week after Elvis died. If it wasn't for Elvis and Hank Williams, I couldn't be doing what I do today.”
8. Dylan is a writer, director, and painter.
Although he’s obviously known for his work as a musician, Dylan has worked in a number of other artistic fields. He published Tarantula, an experimental prose poem, in 1966, and penned the first volume of a three-part memoir, Chronicles, Volume One, in 2004. In 1978, he co-wrote and directed Renaldo and Clara, a four-hour film made up of concert footage and narrative scenes (It got mixed reviews). He’s also a prolific painter.
9. He introduced The Beatles to pot.
After The Beatles first heard The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan in 1964, they were major fans. “For three weeks in Paris, we didn't stop playing it,” John Lennon said of the album. “We all went potty about Dylan.” Dylan introduced the band to marijuana that same year, and they became such fans of the drug that soon they were, according to Ringo Starr, “smoking pot for breakfast.” The band’s use of pot would have a major effect on their recording style.
10. He’s way beyond EGOT.
So far Dylan has the “GO” bit of the coveted Emmy-Grammy-Oscar-Tony collection, having won many Grammys over the years and an Academy Award for “Things Have Changed” from the film Wonderboys. But he’s got so many awards that the full EGOT seems unnecessary; he's been awarded a Golden Globe, the Pulitzer Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and, now, the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Images: Library of Congress/Wikimedia